Across the world, people with disabilities are entrepreneurs and selfemployed workers, farmers and factory workers, doctors and teachers, shop assistants and bus drivers, artists, and computer technicians (1). Almost all jobs can be performed by someone with a disability, and given the right environment, most people with disabilities can be productive. But as documented by several studies, both in developed and developing countries, working age persons with disabilities experience significantly lower employment rates and much higher unemployment rates than persons without disabilities (2–9). Lower rates of labour market participation are one of the important pathways through which disability may lead to poverty (10–15).
In Article 27 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) “recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities” (16). Furthermore, the CRPD prohibits all forms of employment discrimination, promotes access to vocational training, promotes opportunities for self-employment, and calls for reasonable accommodation in the workplace, among other provisions.
A number of factors impact labour market outcomes for persons with disabilities including; productivity differentials; labour market imperfections related to discrimination and prejudice, and disincentives created by disability benefit systems (2, 17–19). To address labour market imperfections and encourage the employment of people with disabilities, many countries have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Enforcing antidiscrimination laws is expected to improve access to the formal economy and have wider social benefits. Many countries also have specific measures, for example quotas, aiming to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities (20). Vocational rehabilitation and employment services – job training, counselling, job search assistance, and placement – can develop or restore the capabilities of people with disabilities to compete in the labour market and facilitate their inclusion in the labour market. At the heart of all this is changing attitudes in the workplace.